Titan Books Hard Case Crime, out now
The summer and fall of 1973 – a time to put aside childish things?
Stephen King’s latest novel is a short story compared to his thousand-page novels such as The Stand or Under the Dome, but it’s tightly plotted, and economically told. It’s narrated by college student Devin Jones, who takes a summer job at amusement park Joyland in the hope of forgetting the girl who’s broken his heart. Joyland has seen better days, but it’s still got the carny magic, which exerts itself over Devin – and the reader – as the summer progresses. There’s a mystery too: Joyland was the scene of a dreadful murder many years previously, and the ghost of the murdered girl haunts one of the rides.
The cover compares Joyland with The Shawshank Redemption (slightly oddly – that’s the title of the film, not King’s novella in Different Seasons), and while the plots couldn’t be more different, there are tonal and emotional similarities. Devin’s life becomes progressively more complicated, particularly when he meets Annie Ross and her son Michael (as well as terrier Milo), and he learns some hard lessons about himself and about life.
The murder isn’t the driving force of the book: Joyland itself is. There are descriptions of it at work and at rest, with King providing some of his most evocative writing – albeit occasionally overladen with the carny slang. The crime and its solution do take centre stage, and there is a supernatural element, but the moments that will stick in your memory are most likely to involve Devin and Michael. And you, too, may find yourself with something in your eye after reading the last scene.
Verdict: It’s unlikely ever to be featured in a Top 10 of King’s work, but Joyland is well worth a visit. 7/10